Finding Last Minute Airline Deals to Asia and Australia

Sydney Quay from the air, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge

We are 3 weeks out from a trip to Australia and only just purchased our plane tickets a few days ago… and we found a great airline deal! Conventional advice tells you that the cheapest time to book international plane tickets is 8-12 weeks in advance.

That is generally solid advice if your travel days are fixed. But our plans were a little flexible and we weren’t sure about our stopover prior to Australia. So we left buying our tickets late, while continuing to monitor prices. Can you find great airline deals 3 weeks before an international trip? In many cases, YES!

Search Google Flights First

Alex did a lot of the research to find great airline deals. First, he used the Google Flights calendar to search flexible dates. We have credit card points and Delta sky miles, so he also looked at those options as well. Ultimately, we decided to save our airline miles and credit card points for a future trip. We couldn’t maximize their value to go exactly where we wanted to travel.

China Exhibit at the NY Times Travel Show

Schedule a Stop Over

Flying to Australia takes a long time. So we usually like to have a break and visit somewhere new on the way. On our last visit to Australia three years ago, we stopped in Dubai one way and Singapore on the return from Dublin. All on Emirates. But what became clear this time was that we needed two separate roundtrip tickets.

Consider Booking Two Separate Roundtrip Tickets with a Planned Multi-Day Layover in Between

Alex noticed fantastic airline deals to China on the google flight map. Flights from Boston to either Shanghai or Beijing were around $600 USD! As we both agreed we’d rather visit Beijing, we held tickets on American Airlines. Yes, American lets you hold tickets at a guaranteed fare with no credit card for 24 hours! With other major US airlines, you can purchase a ticket and are entitled to a refund within 24 hours.

After having our first roundtrip ticket to Beijing held for free, the next step was to find good flights at a good price from Beijing to Melbourne. We were not able to score as great a deal on our travel dates from Beijing to Melbourne, roundtrip on Air Asia. But in total we did great, all things considered. Air Asia charges for everything from checked bags, seat selection & meals. So much so that it was barely cheaper than Malaysia Airlines ($650 tickets became $850 tickets on Air Asia). But ultimately we chose Air Asia over Malaysia Airlines to avoid a 12 hour layover!

You can always mess with your loved one for entertainment!
On really long flights, you can also mess with your loved one for extra entertainment!

Avail of Free Transit Visas

You might be thinking at this point, don’t you need a tourist visa for China? And how can you be guaranteed to get one so quickly? China has a 144 hour free transit visa. However, travelers are restricted to the city they fly into, i.e., Beijing. Travelers utilizing this cannot have another stopover or change planes in China.

Visitors are restricted to a maximum of 144 hours per stay in China. You must also be traveling on to a third country other than the one you came from. So in our case Australia is the third country going, and the USA is the third country returning.

Discount Airlines like Air Asia have some Cons

Air Asia does not have the most comfortable planes. But we selected window and aisle seats in the back of the plane, where the seat configuration is 2, 3, 2. So we have two seats next to each other, to ourselves, on all four AirAsia legs. That makes a huge difference. And our layovers in Kuala Lumpur for both departure and return are both less than 4 hours.

Brighton Beach, Australia
Brighton Beach in Melbourne with Bell’s mum

Dute to an unstable AirAsia platform, we spent quite awhile trying to pay for our tickets. It took us several attempts to purchase them. Malaysia Airlines initially displayed around the same price as the AirAsia flight with all extras included. But the minute we tried to purchase two tickets the price strangely sky-rocketed by $500 US! We actually tried to book the same Malaysia Airlines ticket on two different computers at the same time. That did not work. But it was worth a shot!

Basically 2 Free Stopovers in China en Route to Australia

In total, we paid $1,463 per person from Boston to Melbourne. This included two separate two day stopovers in Beijing, 25 days out from our trip. The fare included all taxes, seat selection on all 8 flight legs, baggage and meal selection on the AirAsia flights. We only paid $613 roundtrip from Boston to Beijing on American Airlines. We were able to select good seats on their website without paying their surcharge for certain seats.

There were even cheaper tickets, for $548 US, on a direct flight from Boston to Beijing on Hainan Airways. But we read that they aren’t as good as the US carriers (which isn’t saying a lot). Sometimes it is worth paying a little more for comfort and to get what you want, especially when your trip is so long!

To Summarize

Things you may need to compromise when booking last minute international plane tickets include: dates, airlines, stopover cities, layovers and your time looking for tickets. It takes longer to find good deals with the comfort you want. Use Google flights because it quickly notifies you of cheaper flight dates. If you look at the map you may decide to fly to a different city because it’s much cheaper. In addition to google flights, we also recommend checking and Sometimes one of them has a cheaper fare not listed on google flights.

Do you have any tips for finding last minute airline deals?


  • Alex&Bell

    Alex and Bell originally met while solo traveling after finishing university in 2002, in Brugge, Belgium. Alex grew up in the USA and Bell hails from Australia. During our nearly 20 year marriage we've lived around the world, including spending six years living in the Netherlands and Ireland. We have traveled to nearly 70 countries and enjoy giving readers authentic and quality travel tips. Alex is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner, who also freelances for other outlets. Bell is an award winning PhD scientist who currently works for a non-profit lung cancer advocacy research organization called Lungevity. Happy travels and if you have any questions leave a comment or drop an email!

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10 thoughts on “Finding Last Minute Airline Deals to Asia and Australia

  1. Wow looks like you managed to get yourself a deal especially for such a last minute flight! My tips would probably be to shop around or in China it’s very easy to turn up on the day and buy a ticket really cheaply.

    1. Hi Sophie, that is interesting to know that you can find cheap last minute tickets in China. The only issue if you plan to use the 72 hour free transit visa is that you need to already have that ticket booked before you get to immigration! But if we’re ever in China longer, we’ll keep this in mind!

    1. Thanks, yes sometimes for the deals the fastest route needs to be booked ahead of time, and even then it’s often quite a bit more! But for Bell who often has limited time, working on the plane can be a way to save some vacation time 😉

    1. Hi Carol, that is exciting!! How long will you guys be in Australia for? We’re really excited about our stop in China, we go to Aus every three years or so to see Bell’s family and so it is nice to get a new adventure in along the way! Let us know if you need any tips for your trip 🙂 Bell has actually went around Aus for three months in a camper van when she was a kid!

    1. Google flights is great but it’s also important to mix it up. While google flights was awesome planning our China and Australia trip, we just saved a lot of money using for RT tickets from Boston to DC just 10 days in advance. We found the same flight times Jetblue was charging over $300 for, for $126 roundtrip! $126 RT, direct flights, easy!

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